Conversation, curiosity and a cup of joe brought the worlds of Michael Hyancinthe, an eight-year United States Navy veteran and Tyler Way, an artist and creative director, together in 2010. Just a year later, HAS Heart was born with Hyancinthe and Way serving as co-founders.
Based in Grand Rapids, HAS Heart is a nonprofit organization on a mission to help veterans heal and tell their story through the mediums of art, design and fashion.
“There’s something powerful about creativity and how it allows us to share our most personal thoughts and feelings. Many times, many of us who face PTSD or other traumas that we’ve dealt with from our service, a lot of that is held within,” Hyancinthe says. “So the opportunity to express yourself and share what’s inside of you through art and creativity, we believe is a very powerful tool.”
Through their signature HERO series, a veteran is partnered with an artist and over a two-day collaborative design process, they have in-depth conversations and brainstorm ideas that articulate the veteran’s desired message to the world. The process is documented through photos and videos. Once the concept is finalized, the veteran’s story is illustrated on T-shirts, embroidered patches and/or other products available to consumers.
“It starts with having empathy and finding those connections that bring us together,” Way says. “I think both sides, as the veteran coming in and the artist coming in, they both probably feel this intimidation factor. With the artist, it’s this fact that ‘I haven’t signed up and volunteered to serve my country like this gentleman or gentlewoman sitting across from me; so there’s a general respect for that and there’s also this larger responsibility to effectively share their story through this 2-D graphic art that will get put on some product.”
Since 2011 HAS Heart has worked with over 100 artists with plans to expand their network of civilians and veterans with the opening of the HAS Heart Coffee Shop. The shop will be located on the historic park grounds of the Grand Rapids Veterans Memorial Park and serve as a community space for more coffee, conversation and creativity.
Listen: How a story about a quadriplegic marine inspired the vision to partner veterans with artists.